A million dollar home with a blue bottle garden for lawn replacement

Blue Bottle garden Pasadena LA City Pix
This Spanish Revival home’s front yard is now filled  mostly with succulents and cactus plus lawn ornaments everywhere!

The woman who owns this home told me that she decided to take up lawn replacement design on her own.  She said she had no art training of any kind, so I have begun to think of her as a self-taught primitive landscape designer, a kind of “Grandma Moses of lawn replacement”.

Flower Bed Blue Bottle garden LA City Pix
The basic design unit she uses is a circle within a circle within a circle. Each with its own colors. The basic background is dark red wood mulch, which has begun to fade in some areas.

The design of this front garden breaks almost every rule of conventional garden design.

Blue bottles around plumeria LA City Pix
I think the blue bottles are from a water brand–maybe?  Or maybe wine? She told me she loves butterflies so there are parts of the garden with colorful butterfly ornaments. The tree looks like a Southern California favorite from the tropics: a  heavenly fragrant plumeria. To it she has added blue light bulbs as decorations.  And there are lots of wind spinners throughout.

The result is astonishing. Unlike anything else in the staid, quiet Madison Heights neighborhood of Pasadena.  And I love the whimsy of it all!

(For more about lawn replacement go to my Hot Gardens website.)



Blue Bottles, wind spinners and butterflies in Pasadena LA City Pix
The blue bottles are a striking visual element during the day and light up at night along with many other parts of the gardens. Stacked around the edges of the garden are bags of mulch and empty pots, so I think she is not done with her design. Happily, all the plants look alive and thriving    

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A Sunday stroll in Descanso Gardens near Los Angeles

Family at Descanso Gardens
A family in the Rose Garden part of Descanso. It is not rose season, but a few trees were in bloom.

Originally the Descanso Gardens was an estate where camellias and roses were grown commercially. The owners back then, Mr. and Mrs. Boddy, also replanted California oak trees after a wildfire burned through the property decades ago. Today we have to thank them for one of the most beautiful gardens in Southern California, now part of the Los Angeles Park system.

Wisteria at Descanso entryway
Wisteria plants grow along the pergola at the entry to Descanso Gardens. Their peak bloom has already passed.

Camellia trees still thrive as understory trees beneath the oaks. Roses from around the world still bloom in summer although they are gradually being replaced with more drought-tolerant plants. A garden of lilacs suitable for hot climates has been added, as has a Japanese garden.  And more.

Here are a few photos from my Sunday walk around the garden.

Admiring flowers Descanso rose garden
I am not sure which plants this couple were admiring, but most of the roses are really not yet in full bloom. Love the umbrella!


Foxgloves near the gazebo
The gazebo and nearby pavillion are often used for weddings. Foxgloves have replaced roses in this photo.
waterfalls Descanso Gardens
While there is a small natural lake in Descanso Gardens the streams that wind through the property and the small ponds are all fed by pumps.
spring grass oak woodlands
Every year for a few weeks in Spring all the hills in Southern and Central California flush with green grass, then as the heat builds the hillside begin to fade to a lovely golden brown as summer wears on.  Shady trails wind through the oak woodlands part of the gardens.
aeonium in bloom
If you look closely behind this Aeonium in bloom you will see the Canada goose paddling  around in the circular pool. The little lake at Descanso is nearby, but I guess the pool is more appealing to this goose.
Red poppies in rose garden
Roses are very thirsty plants so the powers that be at the Descanso Gardens are gradually replacing the roses with other plants like this poppy. It is not a California native, however, and can be a source of heroin.
California 'lilac' ceanothus
Called the “California Lilac” this Ceanothus “Ray Hammond” grows near the entry to the drought-tolerant California native plant garden. It is really not a lilac at all. There is, however, a true lilac garden at Descanso near the Japanese garden.


Poppies are blooming in Pasadena and coming soon to the high desert Poppy Reserve


poppies at descanso garden
I love this photo taken at the Descanso Gardens near Pasadena. The poppies appear to be at the base of a mountain, a very Japanese garden influence.






















After years of drought the rain this winter has given renewed life to the intrepid California poppies.  A block from my home the Throop Church’s water-wise landscape is filled with brilliant orange blossoms.  Poppies are also in bloom at Descanso and Arlington Gardens.

The ‘poppy monitors’ at the California Poppy Reserve in the high desert, however, have reported that the bloom has not started there and may not be all that opulent this year.  On the other hand, they have announced that the desert bloom near Anza Borrego  is already amazing!

Here is a sampling of what I found nearby.

The throop church pasadena
Throop Church was founded by the man who also established Cal Tech. It is now a Unitarian Universalist church. Parishoners have transformed the landscape into a drought tolerant one, including poppies.
poppies line the sidewalks throop church
Poppies have seeded themselves on both sides of the sidewalk beside the church.
California poppies arroyo seco
These poppies in full bloom were photographed beside the casting pool in the Lower Arroyo Seco park. Much effort has gone into restoring this park to its natural condition. It is a lovely place to walk on the trails that lace through it.
red poppies arlington gardens
Brilliant red poppies–not California natives–bloom in Arlington Gardens in Pasadena.  There are also orange colored natives in this garden. There are plenty of places to sit and admire the landscape in this small beautiful garden.


Purple Jacaranda trees in bloom along Del Mar about a month early

jacaranda trees along del mar blvd.
Jacaranda trees in bloom along Del Mar blvd. in Pasadena.

Decades ago–say, back in the 1970s and 1980s–the Brazilian Jacaranda trees planted all over Los Angeles bloomed in early June.  In recent years the trees have begun to bloom earlier.  Climate change maybe?

In Pasadena Jacarandas planted along Del Mar boulevard are now in bloom.  This year, however, the blooms seem a bit sparse. I suspect the drought is to blame for this. There are tight regulations about irrigating plants and trees in Pasadena.

Brazilian jacaranda trees
Jacaranda trees in front of Throop Church on Del Mar and Los Robles, Pasadena.  Mr. Throop founded Cal Tech and this church among other things.  He definitely was a mover-and-shaker in Pasadena a century ago.

To come to see them in Pasadena via the Metro, exit at the Del Mar Gold Line station and turn left on Raymond.  Turn left again at the first corner and you’ll be on Del Mar with a mile of blooming Jacaranda ahead of you.

La Grande Orange, a restaurant at the Del Mar station, is one of my favorites. Good food. Asked to be seated on the covered patio.

The mysterious source of L.A. River water? (Hint: not those clouds above you.)

Lake at Tillman Reclamation Plant
The lake at SuihoEn Water Gardens. Tillman Water Reclamation offices are in that white building to the right.

As storms sweep into the West Coast the Los Angeles River has become at times a raging flood of water racing to the Long Beach harbor. But most of the year the river channel would be bone dry were it not for the treated sewage water from the Donald Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys that is dumped into the river. Other water treatment plants across the valley also pour their water into the river.

Cascading water at SuihoEn garden
Cascading water and streams are part of this 6.5 acre Japanese garden.


Yes.  That means the water carrying you down river in kayaks in summer is treated sewage from homes and businesses across the San Fernando Valley.  And the water that went into those homes probably came either from the Colorado River or via the California Aqueduct from the Sacramento River in Northern California. Water is peripatetic in California! But I digress…

The Tillman Water Treatment Plant is also home to the beautiful SuihoEn water garden designed by Koichi Kawana. The photos in this post were taken in Spring, but with the increasing interest in the river it seemed like a good time to show the water garden.  It’s located at 6100 Woodley Ave. in Van Nuys in the Sepulveda Basin, by the way, and part of the water outflow goes into Lake Balboa.

While the garden is quite beautiful, there is a faint but distinct smell of sewage.  Entry fee of $5 for adults, $3 for kids and seniors.

Garden house at SuihoEn garden
A Japanese style viewing pavillion sits at the northern end of the lake at the SuihoEn Garden in Van Nuys. There are, however, beautiful vistas throughout the garden.
bridge at Tillman Water Reclamation lake
When I visited there were very few people at the garden. More should take the time to go there — later this spring.
Tillman Reclamation Facility
A full time staff of gardeners maintains this beautiful Japanese Garden.
SuihoEn water garden at Tillman Plant
Reflections in the lake at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys
water lilies and sky reflections
Water lilies and reflection of the sky and walls at the SuihoEn Gardens.
azaleas in bloom SuihoEn Gardens Van Nuys
Another vista in the garden: red azaleas in bloom.


Plum blossoms at Tillman Reclamation plant
Plum trees at the edge of the lake bloom in early spring at the SuihoEn Garden in Van nuys.
wavy hedges at SuihoEn Garden
Even the pittosporum hedge continues the flowing water theme. It’s been trimmed into a waving, undulating shape.
Coots at Tillman Water Plant
I saw racoon footprints, a heron and these coots in the garden. Coots stay in one place if they like it and multiply like crazy.



Visiting the Getty to see amazing photos and views of Los Angeles

Entrance to Getty Museum
I love the play of light and shadow in the entrance to the museum complex.

I went to the Getty Center yesterday to see an exhibition of the photography of Ishiuchi Miyako.  No photography is allowed in their galleries, so you will have to rely on my opinion that the exhibition is definitely worth the trip. And don’t miss the Edible Moment show in the Research Institute to see an actual sugar sculpture.

At the Getty in November, I thought, there would be few tourists.  Well, it must be school break time in Japan.  There were hundreds and hundreds of Japanese teenagers around, most of them looking as bored as teenagers do everywhere.

Japanese students at Getty Museum
Hundreds of Japanese students were visiting the Getty on a warm November day.

Aside from the students, the tourist numbers were few–to the extent that the Terrace Cafe overlooking the gardens was closed.

Anyway…here are some photos I took:

The Terrace cafe has amazing views of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. I could even see the ocean in the distance for the first time ever!
The Terrace cafe, closed for the winter, has amazing views of the westside of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. I could even see the ocean in the distance for the first time ever! (Another cafe is still open and I had a good tostada for lunch.)
Between the trees in this photo is a path leading down to the Central Garden.  The trees still have a few leaves left on them.
Between the trees in this photo is a path leading down to the Central Garden. The sycamore trees still have a few leaves left on them.
Children rolling on Getty lawn
Little children were having a great time rolling downhill on the neatly trimmed lawn. I remember rolling downhill as a child, but it was never on a lawn this well groomed. It was fun!
Robert Irwin gardens at Getty
The Central Garden at the Getty was designed by Robert Irwin. Low-water usage plants and trees predominate.
Los Angeles from the Getty
Looking eastward across the city of Los Angeles. Downtown L.A. is that cluster of buildings in the distance, to the left. (If you think the smog is bad in this photo–well, it’s not.  Back in the 1970s you probably could not have seen downtown!


See the real Los Angeles River which Frank Gerhy and others plan to change. For the good?

Los Angeles River Glendale Narrows
This photo taken at the Glendale Narrows is often used to show the L.A. River. Most of the river doesn’t look like this.  The Glendale Narrows is the point where the river changes direction from east-west to north-south and heads toward the ocean.

As I was nearly done writing my new novel, Finding Mr. Yes, I began to read reports that notable architect Frank Gehry had been hired by an organization I’d never heard of to design plans to revitalize the Los Angeles River.  What!!??!  I had already written several scenes set along the trails and pathways by the river and was alarmed to think that the man who designed Disney Hall was going to put his imprint on the 51 mile long river. And I wasn’t the only one alarmed by this.

Then there was this organization that almost all Los Angeles area residents, including me, had never heard of.  What the heck is the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corp.?  Well, it turns out that it is a public-private non-profit group that now has deep deep pockets: the federal government has granted the City of Los Angeles a billion dollars toward restoring the river and this “non-profit” appears to be the beneficiary of the money. As the L.A. Times has reported this is controversial.  It also appears that the Friends of the Los Angeles River, a grassroots organization which has sponsored riverside clean-ups and championed river bank restoration and trails for years and years, has been squeezed out of the picture. The Revitalization Corp is now busy holding events–no doubt paid for with the federal tax dollars–in what appears to be an attempt to create “grass roots.”

Frog Gate in River Walk STudio City
The Frog Gate in Studo City leads to one of many paths and trails along the river.

Sadly, a real estate rush is on. Speculators are buying up property along the river and prices for tiny homes and highly polluted lots are skyrocketing. I shudder to think of what the riverside will be like with MacDonald’s and Starbucks and million dollar condos and who knows what else lining the banks.  Perhaps the scariest real estate venture is a plan to buy an old, 40 acre train yard and use it for housing for Olympians if L.A. gets the 2024 Olympics.  I wouldn’t walk across that land wearing anything less than a hazmat suit. It is highly polluted and filled with toxins!

On the other hand, Mother Nature has her ways. I remember one El Nino year when we were living in Studio City three blocks from the river. One storm brought so much rain that the river overflowed its concrete banks and our front yard was flooded. We were spared but there was a lot of damage closer to the river.

Anyway… Here are some photos of the Los Angeles River.  I had intended to post photos about the CicLAvia going on in downtown L.A. today, celebrating the 5 Year anniversary of the event, but it is raining. Here comes El Nino!

Los Angeles River Studio City
This is what the river looks like for much of the distance across the San Fernando Valley. South of the Glendale Narrows the banks are concrete inclines. The water you see in the river is barely enough to cover the floor of the flood channel. In summer the river is almost bone-dry.
pedestrian bridge over L.A. River
On the pedestrian bridge at Laurelgrove one scene in my new novel plays out. The trees and native plants alongside the path have been planted by local neighborhood groups.
In my novel, Finding Mr. Yes, two LAPD officers come down the access path to the River Walk in Studio City. I'm not going to tell you why!
In my novel, Finding Mr. Yes, two LAPD officers come down the access path to the River Walk in Studio City. I’m not going to tell you why!